When to Leave Your Church, Part 1

Church life can be tough, to say the least. The reason is simple: there’s the possibility of backbiting, gossip, spreading dissension, conflicting personalities, differences of opinion, and more. Really, there’s the possibility of feeling like the victim in the picture below!

I like what Ken Sande of Peacemakers Ministries said at one of his great conferences I attended several years ago, “If two or more are gathered together, there will be conflict.” Pretty funny, eh? And true!

Over the years I have seen and heard of many people leaving their churches for various reasons. And the reasons many leavers often give for deciding to leave, perhaps, aren’t the real reasons.

“God is leading us away.” That’s too vague.

“We don’t like the music.” Really? That’s a reason to leave your church?

I know what some of you may be thinking right now, “Is it really anyone’s business why I should decide to leave my church?” A very good question! Of course, I can’t make an “across-the-board” statement. However, if you are thinking of leaving your church, do you realize you are actually thinking of leaving your church?

You’re not leaving your building or your programs. You’re leaving your people.

The Apostle Paul often wrote a phrase throughout his epistles that we should consider more often in church. That phrase is “one another.” Bear with one another, love one another, look out for the interests of one another, carry one another’s burdens. The idea is of familial intimacy. When you decide to leave your church, you decide to leave your “one another.”

So is it my business that you are leaving my church? Most definitely! You are leaving part of my “one another.” Now, it’s not my business to spread rumors of why you are leaving. And it’s certainly not my business to hold a grudge against you for leaving. But here’s the dealio: if you leave my church, you are leaving…

…me.

This isn’t usually the perspective we think of when deciding to leave a church. Many times, the real reasons people leave their churches are because of negative issues, such as anger and bitterness. Those are not “one another” emotions. Those are “me and no other” emotions.

Usually, when a church member decides it’s time to go, he leaves as quietly as possible. Maybe he’ll send an email or letter to the pastor, but he doesn’t face anyone (or very few).

We’re quick to call our churches families. But when one leaves because of conflict there’s not much done in the way of reconciliation.

If you’re a parent, have you ever lost a child in the grocery store? I couldn’t imagine one of my kids disappearing! That would be tragic! Perhaps we should view our churches this way–that if one were to disappear, the rest of us would view that as a tragedy.

God does lead people to different churches sometimes. And there are good reasons to switch to another place of worship and fellowship. But when it comes to conflict with others, perhaps we are best to confront with love and grace. Forgive and be forgiven. Seek to be full of grace and truth. These are difficult, but they are commands from our Master.

There can be good reasons to leave a church, but conflict isn’t one of them. When the love and grace that Christ shows us are expressed from us, the world sees and ponders. And they want it.

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(10) Comments

  • Dean
    06 Mar 2012

    Awesome stuff Chad, our pastor covered the whole “one another” stuff on Sunday.. I like the way both of you put it.. Great article.

  • Patsy Kaleel
    06 Mar 2012

    Chad, I am in total agreement. Here is my question that always haunts me when someone does leave a body/community of believers. Why does the body usually completely cut that person off; treat them as lepers; totally reject them? Very seldom do you hear of calls being made to check on those people; to see if reconciliation can be facilitated; if relationship can be continued. What we have seen in our years of ministry is “out of sight, out of mind.” We simply do not understand it. Yes, they may leave their “church family”. Yes, their reasons may not be rational or valid. But, isn’t the body of Christ determined by their faith and relationship in & to HIM, and not by what pew they sit in?

    We have seen so much healing and restoration, by reaching out to those that do leave. Do they always return to the same body? No, not always; many times they do. We have found by being loved, sought after and in relationship with them, the enemy does not always get a foothold with bitterness, unforgiveness, and lack of trust. We have seen them go on to be productive members of other bodies; many times, using their poor decision of the past to teach others how to interact with their own community of believers.

    Many times, my husband has said, “unfortunately, we as believers, many times take no prisoners. We shoot our own wounded.” What a sad indictment of many of us today.

    • J. Chad Barrett
      06 Mar 2012

      Good points, Patsy! Thanks for your thoughts. The Church (capital C) is a people and not a building, or series of buildings and programs. I’m glad you have pursued restoration with those who left your church. Such love is the lifeblood of the Body of Christ!

  • Patsy Kaleel
    06 Mar 2012

    Boy, I was sure redundant with that “many times”. Simply did not want to insinuate that the entire body responds the incorrect way!

  • Mitzi Howard
    06 Mar 2012

    Excellent word… The truth of Christ prevails. I’ve found keeping in relationship with those who have left can bring reconciliation and truly strengthen the body of Christ as a whole for HIS glory. Thanks for sharing this word.

    • J. Chad Barrett
      06 Mar 2012

      Relationships is the name of the game with the Body of Christ! Thanks Mitzi!

  • Debbie Barrett
    06 Mar 2012

    I finally had the time to read this. Awesome and so true. I have been in both positions before, one who left and one who tried restoration. I really like the comments from Patsy. It is ashame that as a family of believers too often we treat one another with disinterest unless we think alike. That disinterest seems to grow if we leave one body. I personally believe that is one of the reasons people don’t feel welcomed in many churches or why some leave. Not an excuse but if we are family, then we need to start acting like it. God desires and demands that we forgive and seek restoration when we have wronged another or have been wronged. The purpose of church is to worship a living God and to grow up believers who can then move out and share with others the good news of Christ. We can’t effectively do that if we/me are not looking for ways to really be a family. Love you Chad, Melissa and all those growing Barretts.

    • J. Chad Barrett
      07 Mar 2012

      Great thoughts, Debbie! “Looking for ways to really be a family…” Sounds proactive to me! Thanks for commenting.

      We love and miss you, too!

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